Your fiercely determined child makes you want to climb the walls on most days, but you usually end up scrubbing various substances off the walls, your child and yourself instead. You were blessed with a strong-willed child — part coyote, part bull, it’s wired into their DNA. That’s just how they were made — sugar, spice, a couple of boulders and the kitchen sink.
This munchkin is always on, and though you’ve looked, there’s no off switch. They’re amazingly spirited and courageous, but you don’t want to participate in every argument party they feel like hosting. They push boundaries and need to know the why and how of everything. When faced with a problem, they set out to solve it on their own. It’s exhausting to keep up, and you have to learn to find your footing when parenting them. Here are a few tips for the days when your little one is trying your last thread of patience.
From a tender age, your little one knows all about power. It’s part of them cultivating their identity. Buckle up for the ride, because they’re going to keep testing your boundaries over the next few years. Toddler years vs. teen years — which will win?
For getting through the here and now, give your child choices to empower them and move back toward your schedule and sanity for the day. Orders will set off the whirling tornado of munchkin fury. Offer up options you’ll be able to stand by at the end of the day: “You’d rather play. I hear you. We can leave now or in 10 minutes with no fuss. Which do you want to do?”
They’ll still test you, but keep it up. Eventually, they’ll get the hang of this thing called tough life choices. You’ll also be well on your way to developing mutual trust and respect, and your child will know you support them.
Their Bodily Authority and Autonomy Matters
When possible, let your child take the lead with activities. Let your child brush their teeth, pick out their clothes — within reason — and go about figuring out their morning routine. Look at it like a checklist, and ask your child what else they need to do this morning. Say, “We wake up. We take a bath, then we…” Your child will fill in the blank and proudly set to the task at hand.
Aside from these routine matters, your child should not be forced to hug someone they express a strong dislike for or if they’re not in a mood for. Just tell your child all they have to say is “No, thank you,” and run to get you.
Focus on Experiential Learning
You tell them the stove is hot, but the shiny warm surface still beckons their tiny fingers to touch. How many times do you have to repeat yourself? Should you have their ears checked? Thankfully, kids bounce back easily, but they’re like little stunt actors getting into all kinds of nonsense.
Unless they’re about to deep-fry their fingers, let them get into shenanigans to learn from experience — pleasure vs. pain is a thing. It’s better they work through that themselves, instead of associating fear and pain with obeying and trauma. Obeying is the act of doing what you’re told, but it doesn’t teach right from wrong. Their little brains are extremely malleable right now. Release the reins more, and your nerves will stay more intact.
Consistency Over Power Struggles
Kids point out hypocrisy at the speed of light. If you don’t follow the rules, why should your child? Because you said so? Again, obeying an authority figure doesn’t teach right from wrong, and you’re better off following your rules for adulting if you want them to learn, too. Teach by example and establish consistency through rules and routines.
What do you do when you all wake up? “We brush our teeth and put on our clothes,” you might say to your little one, but face it: Most days, you need that reminder yourself. Don’t lose your last thread of patience on your child because you’re spazzy and stubborn in the brain, too. Keep reiterating the rules and routines.
Participate in Time-Outs
What do you do when your child throws a major tantrum in the grocery store? You may be tempted to throw yourself dramatically on the floor and wail, too, but most likely, you quickly exit stage left.
It’s easy to give into yelling during a power struggle or going off on an adult tantrum. All parents are guilty of it from time to time, but the difference is that you’ve learned to regulate your emotions in most situations by now. So, lead by example and put yourself in time out for a moment before talking with your child. Establish a rule in your home that you must have private time in your room if you’re having too many feels to address family respectfully.
That’s not a punishment. It’s teaching your child how to check in with themselves and self-soothe. You need that time, too.
Let Your Kid Save Face
There’s no need for you to prove yourself. You’re facing a tiny person who’s growing.
Focus on setting reasonable expectations for where they are and who they are now. Do not try to break your kid’s will or get them to obey you, or else. There are rules and routines, but your child can express their feelings and opinions. Let your kid save face, and they’ll respect you. In later years, it’ll influence how they talk with you.
It’s difficult to always listen actively when processing all the emotions and thoughts that come with raising a strong-willed child, but it’s necessary to really know where your child is coming from. Listening will also influence where you come from at any given point.
Listen actively by repeating your child’s point of view back to them in language you both understand. Reflect with empathy, indicating, “This feels important to you.” Help them think about thoughts and actions more deeply by saying, “What do you think would happen if…?”
Labeled as “stubborn” and “difficult,” these tiny humans already have something in them that most adults struggle to learn for life — how to defend yourself and hold your ground. Sure, they shriek like tiny banshees while doing it, but it takes a while for their brains to process certain situations and facts. Many things are new to them, and you know this — but getting through the day-to-day is tough.
Use these tips to make parenting a strong-willed child a little less miserable. Your relationship will blossom into a positive and respectful one as they grow into their teen years and beyond.